Saturday, March 22, 2014

A Twisted Kind of Love

No, this isn't the post I was referring to earlier. That one is still cooking. Today's post is the result of an 'Aha!' moment I had yesterday morning when a wonderful human being (you know who you are) enlightened me with one sentence that suddenly made sense. It all started with me ranting on as usual about people in Dhofar interfering in each others' business non-stop and continuously bombarding you with unwanted advice. 

I'll give you an example. Recently I was at Carrefour in Salalah in the home section ... in the corner where the annoying voice attracts you with 'Everlock! The solution to all your problems! The suction cup system that holds and holds and holds....'. Yes, that corner. 

As I was attempting to choose a few boxes to store my ever-growing pile of papers, notes, musings, and writing... I heard someone approach me. High heels. I stuck my head deeper into the boxes hoping whoever it is walks by without recognizing me. You see, I'm not very social. I don't like to be out in public particularly in shopping malls or supermarkets unless it's at 9:00 am on a Friday morning (as Travelallergy so very well knows since we tend to shop at the same time). 

Anyway, I wasn't lucky. The heels stopped two feet away from me and I hear the usual "Nadia? Are you Nadia?". I look up and see a woman in a burqa (face veil). I smile politely and nod my head. She immediately sticks both her hands out and takes my right hand in both of hers. 

Weird Woman: "Nadia?? It's you? Daughter of X and X? Cousin of X and X?"

Me: "Yes, that's me. I'm sorry I don't recognize you. Who are you?"

Weird Woman: "Did you sister get married recently?"

Me: "Uh, yes. Who are you again? Sorry I didn't get your name..."

Weird Woman "Oh, but she's younger than you, no?"

Me "Um, yeah"

Weird Woman "You know Nadia, everyone knows that you studied abroad and are independent and everything, but you really shouldn't see marriage as an obstacle to your life .."

Me: (by then I'd given up finding out who she was) "Don't worry. Insha'allah everything will be fine"

Weird Woman "Yes, but you've reached an age where you need to start making sacrifices and getting married. You can't let past experiences or other people's experiences stop you from getting married"

Me: "Um, ok?"

Weird Woman "Look at your cousin X and sister Y. They rejected the idea of an arranged marriage at first. But look at them now, they're settled and content"...

Me: "Um, thanks. I'm kind of in a hurry to meet someone in ten minutes, so..."

Weird Woman "Really, you should open your mind to marriage. It's time. Stop being difficult. The more independent you get, the fewer men you'll get. It's not worth it"

Me: "Ok, well thanks. See you around" 

I walk away fuming and thinking to myself "who the hell does she think she is? I don't even know her! she didn't even give me her name!!! I HATE THIS TOWN"  as I pull out my emergency packet of Dettol wipes (I have OCD and can't stand the idea of someone holding my hand ...I had to disinfect immediately)

If you think that conversation that took place was weird and completely rude, then you're probably an expat. In Dhofar it's completely normal. People do it to each other every day ... all day. And if you're an expat living in Salalah they probably do it to you too. (why don't you wear an abaya? It will make you more beautiful. Why not wear makeup?  Teacher, you should do this or eat this or wear this, etc, etc) 

In that past one week alone, I've been told to wear the veil, stop driving, become more demure, wear more makeup, wear less makeup, get married, not get married, eat, not eat, lose weight, not lose weight, etc, etc. 

It's insane.

It drives me crazy.

And there's nothing I can do about it.

Another example, one of my cousins got married to a girl who is slightly darker than he is. The girl is extremely pretty and wears makeup to match her skin color (i.e. not Marylin Manson white please click on that link). At a family lunch, a bunch of women approached the groom's sisters and proceeded to inform them that they NEED to advise their new sister in law to wear more makeup because it's shameful to be darker than the groom. 

Yes, they had the nerve to approach the family with serious faces with serious advice concerning something that is none of their business. 

Here's three main points one needs to keep in mind before telling a Dhofari to 'F*** Off' if they offer unwanted advice: 

(1) They really do believe from the bottom of their hearts that they're doing you a FAVOR. 
(2) They give you advice because this society is all about conformity. They want you to be just like them. Take it as a compliment.
(3) When they interfere in your business and ask you personal questions and insist that you answer them, it's because they're looking for flaws in your life that they can help make better. 
(4) They do it out of love.

Ok, so you're probably thinking I've gone nuts. But I haven't. Yesterday morning I was sipping coffee with that wonderful person and complaining to them about someone else who keeps offering advice and telling me what I'm doing wrong (everyday, all day). The wonderful person (we'll call him W.P) chuckled and said "But Nadia, it's a form of love"

I stopped for a moment and looked at him blankly. Love? What love? Telling me I need to start wearing the burqa is a form of love? Telling me I'm too liberal and I need to calm down is a form of love? Telling me I shouldn't be driving is a form of love? Telling me I should make myself whiter is a form of love? What the heck was he talking about?

Then, when I let it sink in for a little bit I realized he may be right. They don't do it because they're horrible, nosy and rude people. They do it because it's their way of expressing caring. When you live differently, they worry about it. It keeps them awake at night. They want everyone to be the same (collectivism at its best). They feel comfortable and secure when everyone around them lives the same way they do. Dhofaris are terrified of change. They want society to remain the same. When someone tries to do something different they stick out like a sore thumb. Society then does its best to correct that by offering advice. 

This isn't an affectionate society. It isn't a society where people openly express love or their feelings. Hell no. People here express their love in different ways. When someone dies they'll be the first people at the funeral helping to get things organized. When you get married, they'll support you. And most of all, they'll offer advice. On everything and anything. 

It drives private people like me CRAZY. But if I look at it from a different perspective, it becomes easier to handle. 

So thank you W.P for phrasing it like you did. It's a form of love.

Oh well.



  1. I really enjoyed it! Thank you, Nadia :)

    As a westerner living with Emiratis, I can relate to this post.

  2. Isn't that also a bit dangerous as well? No one can think outside the proverbial box? I understand it on one hand, but it also limits other people's lives immensely.

  3. I take your point. But certain kinds of love can be harmful, even more so than hate or other negative emotions. I don't really believe in having an overarching life philosophy, but I do generally try to adhere to the following two rules (shout-out to Hippocrates):
    1. Do no harm.
    2. Try to help, but only if you can do so without breaking rule #1.

  4. Coming from the North it’s more of less the same but more so with direct family rather than random people. Don’t get me wrong they would advise you too if given the chance.
    Can totally relate to that epiphany.
    It takes getting used to the fact that it’s generated from a “caring” source and I have still not adjusted to it.

  5. Nice post.

    It would be nice if one could always remember to think of it that way.

    I prefer everyone thinking I am a crazy weirdo married to a crazy werido. Then they don't know what to advise and the advice is less.

  6. I felt you read my mind when you wrote this ... I am one of those who can't stand it anymore .. it drives me crazy .. it takes out the hell of me .. specially those text you to say: hey you posted this or you did that don't do it again in front of men ... WHO ARE U ! f*** off :(
    nice post and cross fingers to less wiredo women in our society ..

  7. Forgive them for they do not know what they are doing. They think they are doing the right thing, that is love. Do not feel attacked, do not defend yourself. Let it pass through you as a wind. You have your knowing, your love for yourself, that is the most important in life. If you meet someone you can´t resist, marry! Otherwise, be free, enjoy Life, work and travel the world. Enjoy being with yourself (you are never alone) and not have to comprimse about anything you want to do or be. Be grateful. Good luck!

  8. I dont undstand you ppl. The arab ppl go to the west world to study, then they return home acting sooo westernised sooo fast.... But... yet I nevr see any westerners who living in the arab world many years returning bak home to europ acting as ARABS. They respect their culture.
    Respect your culture and your society and get a grip on yourself Nadia. If you dont have something better to do why not go volunteer for the needy somewhere.

  9. Nadia your friend is probably right that they do it out of love. And they want you to conform to the only right way of going through life. I bet all of that is going to go out the window when it happens again..take up yoga.... here is some more free advise........:)

  10. Great script for your movie, hilarious

  11. Missy: I was a Westerner who lgrew up in Oman. While I respect my culture as a Victorian (my city is one of the most beautiful in the world and sometimes I long for it), I learnt a lot from Omanis and Arabs in general. I took the parts of their culture that were good, and left the parts of my owen culture that were bad.

    As Muslims, isn't that what the Prophet Mohammed S.A.W told people to do anyways???

    Telling Nadia, she's not proud of who she is as a Dhofari, is kind of nationalistic (and not many great things come out of stark pure nationalism), when clearly, she's only against parts of her culture she deems to be negative.

    Reject that bad, keep the good. Whether European or Arab. Being blindly naitonalistic and proud of race and country is forbidden to Muslims, and stupid for human beings in general.

  12. "Advice" is a much nicer word than "criticism". So often it feels more like the latter.
    I appreciate your insight into their motivation to encourage conformity. I've often wondered if people criticize because they are afraid to compliment (evil eye and all that) and they're trying to make conversation.
    Next time I'll smile and nod and try to convince myself the love me enough to want me to be like them.